Biden announces mass pardon for low-level marijuana convictions, slams ‘failed approach’ to drug war

President Joe Biden has announced a mass pardon for people with federal charges of “simple possession” of marijuana, a major step toward the national decriminalization of cannabis and a major victory for criminal justice advocates.

“Sending people to prison for possession of marijuana has changed too many lives and imprisoned people for behavior that many states no longer prohibit,” Mr. Biden said in a statement Thursday, criticizing the U.S. government’s past treatment of marijuana as a “access failed”.

Marijuana is legal for recreational or medicinal use in most US states, but is still illegal at the federal level.

“Criminal records for possession of marijuana have also imposed unnecessary barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” the president added. “And while white and black and brown people use marijuana at the same rate, black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and sentenced at disproportionately high rates.”

The president also said he was directing the attorney general to create a process to implement the pardons, and he is asking the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to review marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Schedule I status means that the government believes that cannabis has no accepted medical use and poses a high risk of abuse. The classification affects how marijuana is treated under federal criminal law more generally, and also puts up significant barriers for those researching cannabis’ medical uses.

It is unclear when the pardons will take effect, and the majority of marijuana prisoners in the United States are incarcerated at the state level, not federal prisons.

In his proposal accompanying the pardon announcement, Mr. Biden also called on state governors to take similar steps.

Activists and liberal politicians celebrated Mr. Biden’s decision as an important step toward racial justice and reducing mass incarceration.

“Congress should be inspired by the administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the president’s desk that will help close this dark chapter of our history,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marihuana Laws, in a press release. a declaration.

“For years, I have stood with millions of Americans and urged numerous administrations to take steps to issue pardons and decriminalize cannabis,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts added on Twitter Thursday. “This move by President Biden is a historic decision — and it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s unclear exactly which federal charges meet the definition of “simple possession” under the new pardon plan.

A White House official told CNBC that the new policy will affect at least 6,500 people, as well as thousands more charged with possession under the Washington, D.C. law, which is also covered by the Biden plan.

The White House also told The Hill that there is currently no one in federal prison solely for the charges outlined in the president’s plan.

Nor would the pardon scheme make a major dent in the greater dynamics of the drug issue. Poor people of color have been disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana offenses, resulting not only in prison sentences but often lifelong restrictions on access to employment and public services, while wealthy white people have been disproportionately able to enter the lucrative marijuana trade in states, where valid.

Many activists and lawmakers argue that a package that includes full legalization at the federal level, incentives for justice-affected people to enter the marijuana industry, and large-scale pardons is necessary to fully address the inequities of the war on drugs.

“President Biden’s decision to pardon all federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana brings us that much closer to restoring the justice in our society that has been targeted for decades,” Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York said Thursday, adding: “Today’s announcement will reunite thousands. of families and communities. We need to decriminalize marijuana, legalize it in every state, and pardon anyone convicted of marijuana possession—now!”

Even a modest reduction in the number of marijuana convictions would mark a major change in the American criminal justice system.

In 2018, according to research by the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly half of all US arrests were for marijuana, with police booking more people for cannabis than for all violent crimes combined.

Democratic voters, criminal and racial justice advocates and members of Mr. Biden’s own party have pressed the White House to take greater action on marijuana reform.

In July, Senators and other Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Ron Wyden, Ed Markey and Kirsten Gillibrand hit out at Mr. Biden’s “extraordinarily disappointing” record on cannabis so far.

They have called for dismissals and mass pardons since last year, and many in the group have pushed for federal legislation to make marijuana legal and easier to investigate.

“It is clear that cannabis has widely accepted medicinal benefits, confirmed by the medical and scientific communities both here and around the globe,” the letter read.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden said he supported decriminalization of cannabis and low-level pardons, but he did not support full legalization.

The announcement marks a dramatic shift in Joe Biden’s policy. In the 1990s, as a senator, Mr. Biden was a key architect of a series of “tough on crime” policies that exacerbated the war on drugs and its disproportionate impact on people of color.

The White House spent the previous weeks debating the finer points of the pardon announcement, according to CNN, as Mr. Biden reportedly remains skeptical of full legalization.

The move brings him in line with larger national trends in marijuana law.

As it stands, 37 states and the District of Columbia have legal medical marijuana, while 19 states have passed recreational cannabis laws.

Five more states — Missouri, Arkansas, North and South Dakota and Maryland — are voting on recreational pot proposals this year.

Progressive candidates like Senate hopeful John Fetterman of Pennsylvania have made marijuana reform a key part of their pitch to voters.

Last month in Pittsburgh, Mr. Biden and Mr. Fetterman, the current Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, discussed planning marijuana. Political reports.

Sir. Fetterman said in a statement that the move from the White House on Thursday was a big f***ing deal, or BFD. “I talked to [the president] last month on decriminalizing marijuana,” the Democrat wrote on Twitter Thursday.

“Because no one should be turned away from a job or housing or volunteering at their kids’ school because of an old non-violent weed charge. This is a BFD and a massive step toward justice. Thank you, Mr. President.”

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